CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Five years ago, nine people were killed during Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
Five people survived what is now known as the Charleston church shooting.
On June 17, 2015, the victims and survivors who gathered for a Wednesday night Bible study unknowingly welcomed a self-proclaimed white supremacist, later identified as the shooter, for fellowship and prayer before he would pull out a gun and open fire.
Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, who was the church’s pastor and a South Carolina state senator, was among those killed in the massacre.
A manhunt for the suspect, Dylann Roof, followed in the hours after the shooting.
“This is the most unspeakable and heartbreaking tragedy,” said then-Charleston Mayor Joe Riley as he spoke to the media and community in the hours after the shooting.
A woman in North Carolina would later alert her employer that she believed she saw the suspect after seeing information about his vehicle on the news.
“I got closer and saw that haircut. I was nervous. I had the worst feeling. Is that him or not him,” she said in an interview later. She then followed him until authorities could arrive.
The suspect was captured at a traffic stop in Shelby, North Carolina, and was later flown back to Charleston.
He was charged with nine counts of murder and one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. He was later convicted and sentenced to death.
Two days after the shooting, Roof appeared in bond court via videoconference, where survivors and relatives of five of the victims spoke to him and forgave him.
In the days after the shooting, supporters came together in unity and prayer across the Charleston. Many left flowers and notes of prayer outside the historic church.
Former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said one of his proudest memories from his 40 years as the city’s leader is how Charleston responded to the tragedy.
“The way the community responded to this most unspeakable act was beyond anything, and I’m a positive-minded person, that I could ever have imagined. People, the morning after, right there on Calhoun Street, white people and black people together, hugging each other, wiping away each other’s tears,” he said.
A memorial for the “Emanuel 9” is in the works at the church. It includes two large fellowship benches with an opening between them to invite people in and a marble fountain to be inscribed with the names of the nine victims of the shooting.
A virtual commemoration was also planned for the five-year anniversary because of the coronavirus pandemic. A video ceremony was set to be released Wednesday evening to honor the victims and survivors.
Video producer Tony Bell said the video includes nine minutes for each victim and brings a unique perspective.
“When you see actual family members and how it is impacting them, it gives you a window into what it must be like for them,” said Bell. “Hopefully, the whole world is ready to get to a place to where we can make sure this sort of thing doesn’t happen moving forward. It’s a senseless tragedy.”
The video was expected to be posted to Emanuel AME Church’s Facebook and YouTube pages Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. and includes speeches from local, state, and federal leaders.